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Camera Phone

Your phone is a camera, but not an especially good one. Even if you have a fancy phone, it’s still not really very good. But it can use computational photography to make up for some of its shortcomings. And that can be quite effective. Plus, for many of the photos we take, we don’t actually need a good camera. So it can be fine. I use mine a lot.

Portrait Mode

A lot of phone cameras now have a portrait mode, where they use depth information to blur out the background. Occasionally it can work well, but it struggles with fine details. And most portraits do tend to have hair in them, around the edges of the subject, just where it’s a problem, making portrait mode suitable for some things, but not great for portraits.

Best Uses

  • If the camera in your phone is what you have, try it for anything you want to do - they may not be good, but they can be fine for many things. The old saying is “The best camera is the one you have with you”, and cameras in phones totally win at that.
  • Street Photography can be done pretty well on a phone camera. You don’t usually want a shallow Depth of Field for it anyway, and it’s most often done in daylight, so it plays pretty well to these camera’s strengths.
    • The biggest problem is likely to be shutter lag - makes it hard to get just the right moment. Features like Burst Mode and Live Photos can really help, though, making up for that lost precision by taking a lot of photos at once, so you can pick later.
    • You don’t look like a photographer, and everyone else has camera phones too, so you don’t stand out. That should be good for going unnoticed, for the candid shots. There’s a down side, though, too - people who see you taking photos with your phone are more likely to assume the shot is going straight on social media, to either laugh at them or for more creepy purposes.

Making it Better

Dropping my phone while using it as a camera was one of my biggest worries. A MagSafe ring on the back to stick a finger through has helped a lot, and holding the phone in my left hand means I can see the screen and use the volume buttons for the shutter. With the ultra-wide lens, I have to watch out for the end of the ring getting in shot, as well as my fingers. It’s the Belkin thing that’s made for holding the phone on the top of a MacBook to use it for video calls, the ring is just an extra feature. I always thought those rings looked terrible and useless, but now I use it a lot.

On the iPhone you can drag a finger up and down on the display to adjust the exposure. Tap and hold, then adjust the exposure, and it stays that way between shots. Useful for when you want to darken those shadows way down.

I can also set the phone to apply filters, including black and white, when taking the photos, but even without shooting raw, they can still be changed back afterwards. Useful if you’re mainly shooting high contrast monochrome photos, but some might end up wanting to be colour.

Depending on the model, some phones can shoot raw. As with most cameras, it’ll usually slow things down a bit, and take up a lot more space, but it can be worth it where you want the best quality. I usually leave it switched off, but enabled in the settings so I can toggle ProRAW on when I want to.